‘Learning how to learn’ – finding out about the Community Curriculum approach

This week ESRC IAA Officer Dr Eve Forrest, went to find out more about a new approach to school based community partnerships.

On a beautiful autumn afternoon this week, I was lucky enough to travel up to Belsay Hall in Northumberland in time for the opening of a new exhibition called ‘Reimagining Ancient Greece’ a collaboration between Dr Sally Waite, a researcher in Greek Art and Archaeology at Newcastle University, the Shefton Collection at the Great North Museum, English Heritage and Belsay Primary School.


The project combined different elements of the ‘Community Curriculum’ approach, a local-learning model developed at Newcastle University Centre for Learning and Teaching, exploring the potential of utilising community partners to collaborate on a specific area of a school’s curriculum that they have specialist knowledge in. The idea of exploring Greek art and mythology began as part of a pilot from another ESRC Impact Accelerator (IAA) awarded project and has since developed into its own standalone work with new partners. What made the collaboration particularly unique was the strong partnership between Newcastle University and the Great North Museum. In particular it drew from artefacts in the large Shefton Collection, using some pieces that had never been on display before which was hugely exciting for the teachers and pupils too. Using these artefacts as a starting point, children created hands on artwork that allowed them to explore in-depth the everyday life and art of the Greeks as part of their learning in class.

Within a couple of the very grand rooms at Belsay Hall (itself an inspiring and unique example of Greek Revival architecture) glass cases are filled with ancient artefacts and their new interpretations.  Original coins and pottery plates sit beside beautifully painted fragments and coin replicas made by the Year 3 and 4 Belsay pupils. Learning through hands-on art work was central to the project and artist Mina Heydari-Waite guided the children in their drawings and painting, alongside making their own artefacts and in turn, helping create excitement and curiosity about classics and archaeology.

Athenian red-figure wine cup, 525-500 BC, depicting Herakles helping himself to some wine in the cave of the centaur Pholos.

Fragments showing the Labours of Herakles, decorated by year 3 and 4 children at Belsay School and (bottom right) an Athenian red-figure fragment from a krater (used for mixing wine and water) of the fifth century BC depicting the head of Herakles (Shefton Collection 593).

What came across from the children and teachers at the launch was their huge enthusiasm for this new style of learning. In her welcome to those gathered at the opening Clare Cantwell, Head Teacher at Belsay School, perfectly encapsulated the approach from the pedagogical side describing it as a new way of  ‘learning how to learn’ and talked of the potential that this method could have in refreshing  their approach toward lesson planning. The exhibit may be drawing from the distant past but it is clear in the strength of the exhibition that the community curriculum approach is forward-facing and has huge potential as a future method for curriculum development at a local and national level.

Reimagining Ancient Greece  runs until 25th February 2019 at Belsay Hall. To find out more about the Community Curriculum approach and to access resources please go here.

The exhibition was funded through awards from HaSS Faculty, School of History, Classics and Archaeology, The Institute of Classical Studies and Newcastle University Humanities Research Institute  

Read about preparations for the exhibition on the Institute of Classical Studies blog here and here.

Northern Bridge and Ecologies of Knowledge

Vital North Partnership Manager Rachel Pattinson writes about a recent event at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, discussing different approaches to collaborative working

Seven Stories: The National Centre for Children’s Books is a strategic partner to the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. In May, I joined staff from Newcastle University, Durham University and Queen’s University Belfast,as well as colleagues from Northern Bridge’s strategic partners, for Ecologies of Knowledge, a seminar held at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast.

The seminar was suggested by Sage Gateshead’s Dave Camlin. It gave us the chance to reflect on our time working together on Northern Bridge so far, and “to explore some of the tensions and opportunities inherent in collaborative approaches to the generation of new knowledge.”

Newcastle University's Professor Mike Rossington addresses the Northern Bridge Ecologies of Knowledge seminar. Image courtesy of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
Newcastle University’s Professor Mike Rossington addresses the Northern Bridge Ecologies of Knowledge seminar. Image courtesy of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

Of course, there are tensions; when you bring together any group of academic institutions, or cultural organisations, there is competition – for students, for audiences, for funding. And although learning is at the heart of what both universities and cultural venues do, the processes through which we generate knowledge are quite different. We speak different languages. We have different drivers. Working in collaboration requires negotiating all of these factors.

Another tension which formed a focus of conversation during the day was the inequality of engagement with the arts. The Warwick Commission’s Enriching Britain, Culture, Creative and Growth Report states that “the wealthiest, better educated and least ethnically diverse 8% of the population forms the most culturally active segment of all”. How to reach those beyond that 8% is certainly a challenge.

But democratising culture and knowledge is becoming increasingly important in both the higher education and cultural sectors. The Research Excellence Framework emphasises the impact of research ‘beyond academia’; Arts Council England encourages the organisations they fund to reach more demographically diverse audiences.

Dave Camlin (Sage Gateshead) opens the seminar. Image courtesy of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
Dave Camlin (Sage Gateshead) opens the seminar. Image courtesy of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

From my experience of working on the Vital North Partnership between Newcastle University and Seven Stories, collaboration holds exciting opportunities. Partnership helps to make our activities more interesting and diverse. At the intersections between universities, cultural organisations and communities, we can draw on our collective expertise to create new kinds of shared knowledge. And with increasing pressure on arts budgets, we can pool our resources and become more efficient.

I explored the Vital North Partnership’s unique ecology at the seminar, giving a Pecha Kucha presentation. It was also interesting to reflect on what role Northern Bridge, as a Doctoral Training Partnership, has as part of our shared ecology. I think the ways in which universities and arts organisations collaborate is changing. We are asking different questions, and having new conversations. I work at this boundary – and I’m interested to see where we’re headed next.

For more information about the Northern Bridge Doctoral Training Consortium, visit: http://www.northernbridge.ac.uk/

This post originally featured on Rachel’s blog, to find out more about the Vital North Partnership click here.